Illuminating Identity and Health in the Constraint Negotiation of Leisure-time Physical Activity in Mid to Late Life


  • Julie S. Son
  • Deborah L. Kerstetter
  • Andrew J. Mowen


park-based physical activity, identity, motivation, health promotion


Health is both a contributor and a constraint to participation in physical activity across the lifespan, but it may be particularly influential in later life as chronic health problems become more prevalent. Additionally, self and social identity tied to physical activity may be linked to whether or not middle-aged and older adults stay active despite health challenges. We examined the roles of health and identity in the constraint negotiation of leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) with 271 participants aged 50 and older at a Midwestern metropolitan park agency. Better health was associated with a decrease in people’s perceptions of constraints to LTPA. Additionally, better health was associated with more self-reported LTPA. These findings suggest that health-based education and promotion campaigns in parks and recreation settings may help people maintain or improve their levels of physical activity. People may also feel less pressure from constraints if they feel healthier. In this manner, feeling good about one’s health may be enough to reduce a wide range of negative feelings about the limitations one faces to participation. Identity played a significant role in the constraint negotiation of LTPA in our sample. People who were motivated by the possible benefits of physical activity and who personally identified at least moderately with physical activity also perceived fewer constraints to participation. As such, efforts to determine the most motivating benefits for this population and ways to help them identify with LTPA may be particularly important. Additionally, physical activity identity positively influenced LTPA directly as well as indirectly through negotiation. In the former case, the more one identified with LTPA, the more one became engaged in it. In the latter case, physical activity identity increased the use of strategies to participate in physical activity despite constraints. These strategies in turn were associated with more LTPA. In sum, these findings suggest that parks and recreation professionals have a unique opportunity to enhance physical activity identity from both personal and social standpoints. Educational materials that link identity to negotiation strategies might enhance personal identity whereas programs that emphasize social opportunities in and around LTPA might enhance social identity. Integration of identity building with negotiation strategy building across the lifespan may be a worthwhile arena for park-related healthy lifestyles programs to focus their attention if they are interested in increasing active recreation over the long term.?





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